To defuse the escalating back-and-forth of negative ads in the Democratic race for governor, Ned Lamont said today he has reconsidered and now intends to debate Dan Malloy next week on WFSB, Channel 3 and WNPR radio.

“This has gone south fast,” Lamont said of the tone of the campaign for the Democratic nomination, which will be settled in an Aug. 10 primary.

Lamont said in a telephone interview that he thinks that a debate Aug. 3 that would be simulcast by Channel 3 and WNPR would be the best way to clear the air, rather than spend the next week responding to ads and counter ads.

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Side by side today: Ned Lamont, Dan Malloy. (Keith M. Phaneuf)

“I think that the best place to do it is during a debate,” Lamont said.

After a forum today in Storrs, Lamont said for the first time he was reconsidering his refusal to participate in another televised debate. Less than an hour later, he said during an interview he had decided to go head with the forum sponsored by WFSB and WNPR.

“I hope Ned will agree to a wide open format that allows us to engage each other directly in a real conversation,” Malloy said. “Ned himself has said he doesn’t like the ‘1 minute canned response format.’ I couldn’t agree more. So let’s not do that.”

Details have yet to be released about the format.

WFSB and WNPR were going ahead with a one-hour Democratic forum with or without Lamont, leaving an open invitation to Lamont to attend and turn it into a true debate. The stations are hosting a Republican debate the next day.

Lamont said the last week has been dispiriting.

Malloy hit him Friday with ad attacking his record as a businessman, recycling a spot Sen. Joseph Lieberman used four years ago in their Senate race, accusing Lamont of cutting his workforce at Lamont Digital while paying himself a big salary.

Most of the job losses were attributed to the sale of a subsidiary that provides cable television to private residential communities, he said. The jobs went with the cable systems, he said.

Yesterday, Lamont aired a piece talking about a culture of corruption during Malloy’s time as mayor of Stamford, referring to an investigation that ended with Malloy’s exoneration.

Malloy aired a second negative ad, highlighting a commercial featuring a headline about a racial discrimination lawsuit.The spot offered no other information about the suit, which was filed by one employee and settled in 2003.

“It was one employee. It ended amicably,” Lamont said, calling the suit the only one of its kind in 25 years in business.

“This is what politics has come to?” he asked.

Malloy said last night the commercial was intended to pose reasonable questions about Lamont’s ability as a businessman, which is central to his campaign.

Today, when he heard Lamont was reconsidering, Malloy said,  “Let’s call Channel 8 right now.”

Malloy originally had expected to debate Lamont at The Garde Arts Center in New London on Wednesday. The event, which Lamont declined to attend, was to be televised on an affiliate of WTNH TV-8 in New Haven.

Malloy, who answered questions this morning following a gubernatorial forum at the Nathan Hale Inn on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs, said he believes Lamont is feeling the pressure of new campaign ads attacking him for avoiding a second debate.

“Rich guys are used to trying to make their own rules. … There’s a lot of heat in the kitchen and I think he wants to be let out,” Malloy said at UConn.

Lamont used $17 million of his personal wealth four years ago in U.S. Senate campaign.

WFSB and WNPR will broadcast a debate of the Democrats on Aug. 3, followed a day later by a debate with the three Republican candidates for governor, Michael Fedele, Tom Foley and Oz Griebel.

The debates will be simulcast live at 3 p.m. on WFSB, Channel 3 and WNPR radio, then rebroadcast at 8 p.m. on CPTV and WNPR. WFSB also will replay the debates at 7 p.m. on its digital cable channel, Eyewitness News Now.

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